Electorate stitch-ups could still come undone

JOHN HARTEVELT
Last updated 05:00 24/07/2011

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John Hartevelt

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OPINION: Is it just possible that the politicians are overthinking this?

Deals dishing electorate seats for party vote top-ups have been cut, or are being thrashed out, all over the place.

Peter Dunne has tipped over Katrina Shanks in Ohariu, where Gareth Hughes is working with Charles Chauvel.

Paul Goldsmith (and John Key) have made an accommodation for John Banks in Epsom, where David Parker intends to make hay.

And Sue Bradford may become a headache for Carmel Sepuloni, who faces Paula Bennett in Waitakere.

If you're feeling dizzy, or perhaps even a bit queasy about all of this, you could be forgiven. This is the kind of stuff that makes voters sniffy about MMP. At best, it looks anti-democratic; at worst, it's gerrymandering.

The irony is the extent to which it's actually worthwhile. The deeper in to deal-making political parties and candidates go, the greater the risks.

The Ohariu stitch-up is the smelliest. On the left, Labour's Chauvel gets away with the Green's accommodation from Hughes because it's not worth much. But National's head office decree that Dunne should get the electorate votes of its party supporters is more troubling. National's Shanks seems worried that she will drop down the party list and potentially be out of a job if she can't win the seat, so she may go feral. That would be messy for both Dunne and National. As Dunne points out, many Ohariu voters are politically savvy. If they feel Dunne is messing them around, they may well decide to give him a kicking.

It pays to remember, also, that many people vote the same way at every election regardless and will disregard or not notice whatever strange permutation is placed in front of them. To people on the political belt-way, these deals make perfect sense, but Joe Punter doesn't really get why someone would put their name on a ballot paper then ask for people not to tick it.

There is also the problem of unintended consequences.

Bradford, for instance, is weighing up a crack at Waitakere for the Mana Party, but her candidacy would, perversely, be like mana from heaven for Paula Bennett. The westie Social Development Minister is far from a sure thing to hold the seat she narrowly snatched from the hapless former MP Lynne Pillay. But she would very likely be safe if Bradford ran against her and split the vote on the left with Labour's Sepuloni.

Bradford obviously would rather see Bennett go down, but the greater priority for her would be a platform and oxygen from the media to expand the Mana vote.

Assuming she had a decent spot on Mana's list, Bradford could slip in.

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But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet. At the moment, Mana is polling less than 1% and its website features a Twitter roll filled mostly with fans of a Mexican pop group called "Mana" quoting lyrics like "Today I'm going to kiss you from head to toe".

POLITICAL STOCKS

UP: Craig Foss. There are helpful rumours (for him) swirling about that he will step in to Steven Joyce's shoes as ICT Minister.

DOWN: Katrina Shanks. Seldom has an election campaign been so short-lived. Within hours of launching a unilateral bid to try and win the Ohariu seat she covets, Shanks was embarrassingly slapped down by the National Party hierarchy.

john.hartevelt@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

Twitter: @jhartevelt

- Sunday Star Times

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